In his book Fascination, his memoir of gay life in 1970s Long Island, a leading proponent of the New Narrative movement recalls his coming-of-age in a “seedy, Burroughs kind of place.”
I grew up in Smithtown, a suburb of New York, a town so invidious that still I speak of it in Proustian terms—or Miltonic terms, a kind of paradise I feel evicted from. Smithtown, Long Island, kind of an MGM Norman Rockwell hometown, a place so boring they gave it a boring name . . . When I was 14 I began to go to New York on a regular basis, sometimes on the train, sometimes hitchhiking there, looking for a jungly eroticism I supposed Smithtown, with its manicured lawns and its country club airs, couldn’t afford me. I was right and wrong at the same time.
We invited you to help us whittle 20 books published in 1969 down to ten, and we’re now ready to kick off One Grand’s 1969 Book Club. We’re giving readers a month to read our first choice of the year, Kurt Vonnegut’s “famous Dresden book,” as he wryly refers to Slaughterhouse-Five in his introduction. A book that is simultaneously fiction and memoir, and which hops around in time, the New York Times urged that the introduction be read aloud to “children, cadets and basic trainees.” It was the first of Vonnegut’s to become a bestseller, but lost the Hugo Award that year to Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which we’ll be reading later this year.
Graham Greene leads the nominations. Margaret Atwood is running close.
With almost 150 votes cast, the line-up for the 1969 Book Club is shaping up to be a perfect gender balance with books by men, and five books by women. Iconic 1969 novels, Portnoy’s Complaint, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Left-Hand of Darkness are all polling well, as is Maya Angelou’s vivid memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Rounding out the list is Daphne DuMaurier’s gothic time-traveling novel, The House on the Strand, just pushing out John Cheever’s Bullet Park. It’s not too late to vote – the poll can be found here, but here’s the current state of play.
Vote for ten books you want to read (or reread) from the year of Woodstock, Stonewall and Nixon’s inauguration – and join us on a literary journey.
One Grand Books is launching its first book club, and we’re inviting you to join us—whether local or long-distance readers. In the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, Stonewall, and Neil Armstrong’s “small step for mankind,” the 1969 Book Club will look at novels published in that momentous year – which began with the inauguration of Richard Nixon. What, if anything, do they reveal about the concerns of the age, and how do they speak to us today? In literary terms, it was an extraordinary year, with groundbreaking novels by Philip Roth, Ursula LeGuin, and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as some enduring bestsellers, among them Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather and Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. It was also a year in which second wave feminism made its influence clear in novels by Margaret Atwood and Iris Murdoch, among others, and when the singular talent of Maya Angelou was announced with the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. What’s more, all of these titles have all had five decades to demonstrate their longevity and worth.
The acclaimed writer Abdella Taïa on the protests gripping France.
We are in an emergency, that’s for certain. France is on edge at present, on fire. France is angry. Very angry. And nobody can say that this anger emanating from the lower middle class is unjustified. No. There is consensus on that, on its legitimacy. People really have had enough of paying even more tax, and of seeing their lives being reduced day after day. Opposing desires – the desire for purchasing power and the desire to regain one’s dignity.
Televisions and movies would have us believe that the time from late November to the new year is a run on love, togetherness, and eggnog sipped in front of an open fire, but real-life seldom plays out so nicely. There are a multitude of reasons to dread the holidays, but whom amongst us hasn’t inwardly groaned about the family visit? Between the awkward conversations around the dinner table, or the long played out family feud, the holidays can invoke dread in the best of us.
There are people who choose to take Jane Eyre or Great Expectations to their desert island, and then there are people who choose Machine Art, a 1933 catalog for an exhibition at New York’s MoMA featuring stark photographs of household and industrial objects. Toasters vs. Edward Rochester.
This Sunday marks the 152nd anniversary of Charles Dickens first visit to the United State, to read before a packed audience at Boston’s Tremont Temple. In a gushing story at the time, the New York Times reported that the hall was filled “by perhaps one of the most appreciative, fashionable, and brilliant audiences ever assembled in New England.” These days that kind of language is largely reserved for the peacock parade that is the annual Met Ball, or the Oscars red carpet. Try to imagine such a dandy crowd taking even a moment out of their self-absorption to listen, as they did in the Tremont Temple, to a recital of The Pickwick Papers (unless that person was Hugh Dancy, who chose the book for his bookshelf). Yet in 1867, such was the fervor for Dickens that police were drafted in to prevent, as the Times put it, “any confusion or disturbance attendant upon the grand rush into the hall.” Within three years the writer would be dead from a stroke, at the age of 58, brought on it was suggested, by an emotional reading he’d given of the death of Nancy in his novel, Oliver Twist. Even if apocryphal, it’s a fitting finale for one of the most enduring of all writers.
Roger Ebert called Bernardo Bertolucci one of the great painters of the screen. It’s a distinction the director—who has succumbed to cancer at 77—proved many times over, from his sprawling Oscar favorite The Last Emperor (1987) to the lush and undervalued Stealing Beauty (1996). In The Dreamers (2003), an audacious big screen adaptation of the novel by film critic Gilbert Adair, Bertolucci unleashes his painterly instincts right out of the gate with the graphic design of his opening credits. Scored to a guitar-rock soundtrack, the sequence sees the camera descend the Eiffel Tower, with arbitrary, architectural color blocking a la Mondrian. The names of cast and crew are alternately obscured and revealed amid the tower’s bolted beams, and the emergence of the title itself points to a definite ’60s Mod influence—the font suggesting it leapt from a Euro band’s vinyl album cover.